Biometrics: Coming Soon to Your School Cafeteria

by ParentCo. September 05, 2017

A fingerprint in front of a child

Our children’s fingerprints are all over everything – on the mirror in the bathroom, the fridge we just cleaned, and in places we didn’t even think they could reach. I pretty much follow my kids around the house with a roll of paper towels and glass cleaner.

What if those adorable little smudges could help our schools become more secure and efficient?

Biometric technology – technology that uses our unique biological traits, such as fingerprints or retina scans – is popping up everywhere. It may even be on your child’s school-issued device or laptop right now.

Bayometric, a company that makes biometric verification technology, suggests that using biometrics can provide greater security, accuracy, and efficiency in schools. It’s an easy sell. Who wouldn’t want their child’s school to be safer and more efficient? Bayometric’s marketing materials play right into the worries many parents have about their children:

  • A bully could steal your child’s lunch card and eat her lunch.
  • Your child might forget his PIN and not have time to eat lunch.
  • If your child loses her lunch card, the delay it creates could prevent other children from having enough time to eat lunch.
  • Attendance cards can be lost – will your child be counted?
  • Proxy attendance isn’t always accurate, which creates a security risk.

By the time I was done reading Bayometric’s reasons why we need their technology in our schools, my anxious mama-mind was in full tilt. Had a bully ever stolen my child’s lunch card? Had he ever been overlooked during attendance taking? What if he didn’t have time to eat because someone forgot their lunch card? After taking some deep, cleansing breaths and watching a few cat videos, I was able to think calmly again.

Despite its supporters’ claims of extra security and increased efficiency, allowing our schools to use biometric technology could be a step in the wrong direction. Here are some reasons I found that dissuade me from the use of biometric technology in schools.

The laws around biometric data aren’t clear

Biometric data collection is serious business. When a government body wants our fingerprints or DNA, it must demonstrate a reason for that collection and it usually requires a court order. There’s a reason for that: biometric data consists of a small number of unique identifiers that is irreplaceable. If our data gets stolen, we can’t call a toll-free number and request a new set of fingerprints.

Voluntarily handing our child’s biometric information over to a private company is risky. Laws controlling how corporations use biometric data vary from state to state. Our data may be protected by some general privacy laws and guidelines, but biometric data is essentially uncharted territory. Where they exist, current laws lean in the direction of protecting our children’s data. This may not always be the case. Therefore, our children’s biometric identifiers, and the data associated with them, may not be as secure as we’d like.

Once you give it up, you have no control

In addition to laws, biometric data is also controlled by the contract between the technology provider and our child’s school. So, for example, there may be a clause in the contract that permits the corporation to sell our children’s lunch-buying habits to marketers in exchange for more favorable contract terms. There might be a provision permitting the school to disclose data to health insurance providers, which could have repercussions if your child has issues such as diabetes, ADHD, or allergies.

Even more worrisome: at the bottom of the contract, in very fine print, there may be a clause that permits the technology provider to modify the terms of how it uses the data collected at any time. While this sounds like a far-fetched conspiracy theory, consider that AncestryDNA did exactly this to its customers. It’s also not unreasonable to foresee that schools might determine that there is an efficiency advantage to linking school lunch purchases to food inventory needs. This kind of statistical data may seem innocuous at first, but remember that all of it is permanently tied back to our children’s identity.

As consumers and technology users, we routinely provide corporations with information about our purchasing habits. When we do, it’s typically by using email and a password or by connecting to our Facebook page. By using biometrics at the point of sale in the school cafeteria, we are permitting our children’s lunch purchases to be linked to them, specifically, as opposed to that data being linked to a disposable or replaceable identifier such as an email address.

We simply can’t be sure how the data collected might be used in the future. Once data is associated to our children’s fingerprints, there’s not much that can be done if laws change or information is stolen.

Your child might learn less

Data security is a huge concern. However, of even bigger concern are the opportunities to learn social and problem-solving skills that our children lose when their lunch purchases are automated. Using biometrics in the cafeteria deprives our children of opportunities to develop skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives.

Many of our students already use PINs and meal cards for buying lunch. When our children buy their lunch, they learn how to make a purchase appropriately by waiting their turn, moving their food safely down the lunch line, and then completing the transaction by interacting with the adult who takes their payment. They also have an opportunity to practice their manners in during social interactions.

Throughout their lives, our children will be required to keep track of their belongings and memorize small pieces of information. Keeping their lunch card safe or memorizing a PIN is a low-risk way to begin teaching those skills. When our child loses her card or forgets her PIN, she'll learn problem-solving skills such as figuring out who to ask for help. Or, to use an example provided by Bayometrics, he may learn how to handle a bully who’s trying to steal his lunch money. We need to let our children try and fail. Making mistakes is the key to learning and developing resiliency.

In an increasingly digital world, teaching our children how to manage their personal information safely is an important job.

If this concerns you, here’s what to do

If you’re concerned about your school’s use of biometric technology, there are a few important things you can do.

  • Familiarize yourself with the data privacy laws in your state.
  • If you can, start attending school board meetings. If you can’t be there in person, meeting minutes are typically posted online or available by email. It’s always a good idea to stay abreast of school board goings-on, and with the rapid increase in technology use it’s doubly important.
  • If the school board has biometric technology on their agenda, write letters to your school board members and speak up at the meeting. Encourage other parents to join you.
  • If your school district is already on the path to bringing biometric technology into the district, request a copy of the contract and read it closely. The district may not want to provide a copy of the contract to you, so you may need to learn how to request public records in your state.
  • During school board election season, ask your candidates where they stand on biometric technology.

Don’t ever be afraid to advocate for your child by speaking up, writing letters, or making phone calls. If you have concerns about the use of your child’s biometric data, there is nothing wrong with being that parent and opting out of its use.



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